East End Winter Stories: Battle Over Poles, Swans, a Barn and 7-Eleven

Flying Swan
Local mute swans make a break for it, Photo: sodapix sodapix/Thinkstock

In January, a scandal broke in East Hampton when hundreds of local citizens notified Town Hall to say that their annual real estate tax bills, supposedly sent to them in December and due by January 10, had never been received. Since financial penalties would ensue after January 10, this was a big thing.

The Town Supervisor ordered an investigation, the results of which have come back. They are appalling. Turns out that of the 23,000 bills that were supposed to go out, less than 18,000 did. It was discovered that 5,000 had not even been printed.

Furthermore, many of the checks received from the citizens who did get their bills weren’t cashed for weeks. One, from a mortgage clearinghouse for $3.8 million, sat in a FedEx envelope for three weeks. There were even some blank checks, signed by residents and left at town hall, which were found there. These residents, it seems, wanted to pay by January 10 but believed they might not be in town when the taxes were due. Because you don’t know the amounts to pay until you get the bill, you don’t know how much to fill in ahead of time, so just fill in the amounts when the time comes, the town was told. The investigators found these blank checks in a safe opened and shut with some frequency every day by various people.

The tax collector in charge at the time was granted family medical leave. New people put in charge worked seven days a week. Len Bernard, the Town Budget Officer, told the board that the situation had “snowballed and dominoed.”

Two projects already underway were stopped for one reason or another last week. In Amagansett, the Town Planning Department had given a permit to developers to open a 7-Eleven near the IGA shopping center. The Town Board rescinded it. There should have been more review, the Town Board said. You shouldn’t have gotten the building permit. We can legally take one away. So we are.

The second project involves tall wooden telephone poles in a residential area just outside of downtown East Hampton. In the old days, when pokey old LIPA ran the power company, anything out of the ordinary they wanted to do would take years. With PSEG now running things, everything gets done yesterday. LIPA got approval to put in the big poles in September, now they are going in. The town supervisor and mayor have both written to Governor Cuomo to stop this. These should be underground lines. So far, the project seems to have been halted partway done.

Seems to me if the world had built the telephone poles 10 feet higher back in the early 20th century, nobody would be complaining about them being at that height today. We’ve just gotten so used to that lower height, we don’t even notice it anymore. As Einstein once said, everything is relative.

Also, there is a precedent for this. In 2008, LIPA wanted to put tall poles along Scuttle Hole Road in Water Mill and Bridgehampton. A howl went up from the people living in the luxurious homes there, and after a long battle it was finally agreed to put in underground lines at huge expense, with the local residents agreeing to pay a few bucks a month extra to pay for.

With PSEG, the locals could do that on a handshake and the next morning the trucks would be out there getting it done and that would be that.

The DEC wants to “phase out” the beautiful snowy white mute swans in New York State, shooting them between the eyes a few at a time during the next 10 years. They are a nuisance, they keep others out and they are mean. Also, they are an invasive species, meaning that, like the white men in the 17th century, they came here to crowd out the local population, which they did.

Last week, our state assemblyman cosponsored legislation to place a two-year moratorium on that decision for the DEC to think things over. We swans await the reply.

Thirty years ago, the rickety old Sagg Bridge that crosses Sagg Pond was closed to traffic because it was in need of repair. It had been built in 1923 out of wood with just two narrow lanes, it crossed the pond where it was about a hundred feet across, and it was very pretty. The Feds agreed to take on most of the cost of the repair, but only if federal specifications were adopted. This meant, I recall, that it would be four lanes wide and strong enough to handle tanks coming across in the event of war. Protests followed. In the end, the county ran the bridge repair without the feds and repaired it to look pretty much the way it was.

Now it needs a repair again, and again there are protests. People like to fish off the bridge, or take walks across it on a narrow one step-up sidewalk. The new plan does not include a separate sidewalk, just a painted line that cars supposedly should not cross. This would surely discourage either walking or fishing.

A further thing has happened since 30 years ago. Back then, the bridge was in Southampton Town. Now the western 61% is in Southampton Town, but the eastern 39% is in the newly formed Village of Sagaponack. There is an invisible dotted line that crosses the road there.

The plot thickens.

At a ladies night at the Southampton Publick House five years ago, a man dancing on a table was told to get off by a bouncer named Andrew Reister. A fight ensued, and the man got the bouncer into a chokehold and held him in it until he became unconscious. Then, after being let go, it was found the bouncer was near death. He died two days later in a hospital.

The man, Anthony Oddone of Farmingville, who was employed out here as a caddy at the Bridge Golf Club that year, was charged with murder, convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 22 years in jail. A judge later reduced the sentence to 17 years. But in December 2013 his conviction was overturned. He was released on $500,000 bail pending a re-trial.

Instead, Oddone has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and he has been sentenced to time served and five years of supervision.

Oddone ran away and left the premises after he saw the bouncer was unconscious, but there were conflicting accounts about who started it and how long the bouncer was held in the chokehold, even how long a chokehold needed to be applied to cause death. And Oddone, of course, claimed he never intended to kill him. Having Oddone be done with this with time served seems a good outcome.

The CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, a billionaire named Howard Lutnick, has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Southampton Town Planning Board and the town Agricultural Advisory Committee, both as groups and individually against the seven people on the planning board and the 17 people on the advisory committee. It’s about a proposed barn.

Mr. Lutnik bought 40 acres of protected farmland on Halsey Lane in Bridgehampton in 2003 for more than $15 million and in 2007 proposed to build a 11,200 square-foot barn on it. That is a very large size for a barn. The Planning Board told him no. He could build a 2,400 square foot size barn. Now he is suing these two groups and these 24 people.

The battle has arisen because the kind of protection on this farmland is an easement, which allows certain structures on it but not others. A three-acre apple orchard is at one end of it, but it’s not large enough, the Planning Board and Agricultural Advisory Committee said, to need such a big barn.

Also on it is a baseball diamond and a playground. Mr. Lutnik built them for his family. His estate lies adjacent to this property. The Planning Board said it would only approve the 2,400-square-foot barn if he removed the playground and baseball diamond.

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